Friday, March 21, 2008

Diminishing International Relations: Left Bloggers and Foreign Policy

I'm really intrigued by Anne-Marie Slaughter's entry at the Huffington Post, "Stop Gotcha Politics on Iraq."

Slaughter's apparently taken flak from the left blogosphere for her article, "
A Duty to Prevent," which appeared in Foreign Affairs in 2004. In the essay she suggested that the Bush administration did not go far enough in adopting multilateralism in working to prevent nuclear proliferation. Apparently, some commentators, like Tom Hayden, have attacked Slaughter as backing uncritically the Bush administration's Iraq policy of preemption.

For those unfamiliar with her work, Slaughter's one of
the top international relations scholars working in the "norms and institutions" research paradigm (liberal internationalism). She's a huge advocate of multilateral coooperation and the legalization of world politics.

What's interesting in
her HuffPo entry is how she not only engages but elevates to policy respectability left-wing blog commentators like Matthew Yglesias, who have very little expertise in international relations theory. Check it out:

The point of the article, entitled "A Duty to Prevent," was not to approve the war in Iraq, still less to encourage another such venture, but rather to make the point that to improve the chances of effective multilateral responses to situations like the apparent build-up of weapons of mass destruction in a nation under U.N. sanctions it was critical to update multilateral rules and to develop the capacity for preventive action far short of the use of force.

This debate has already gone several rounds. Atlantic blogger Matt Yglesias picked up the same line from the same article and drew the same inference in an op-ed in the LA Times last fall. I emailed him and explained, speaking for myself (I am not advising any campaign):

I would not rule out unilateral action under any circumstances; a nation that had chosen to try unilaterally to stop the genocide in Rwanda in the face of both global and regional inaction would be hard to condemn. Similarly, it is imaginable that the United States or any other nation could conclude that it had absolutely no choice but to use force to defend its vital interests. But the entire point of our article was to minimize the likelihood of either of these situations ever occurring by embracing doctrines in the humanitarian and the non-proliferation area that would spur non-military collective action early in the game and would ensure global or at least regional authorization of force if it came to that....
Yglesias quoted this paragraph in a subsequent post and added that he found little to disagree with, although he questioned whether it is politically or legally possible to define "vital interests" in a way that does not open the door to unilateral interventions by many countries. That's a fair question and a fair debate, one that I would happily join with Tom Hayden.

Hayden's post and many other commentaries surrounding the fifth anniversary of the invasion are a microcosm of the problem with our Iraq policy as a whole. The debate is still far too much about who was right and who was wrong on the initial invasion and far too little about how, in Obama's formulation, to be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. That does not mean that those of us who were wrong about Iraq -- with whatever nuances, explanations, and justifications we might care to offer -- do not have a great deal to answer for. We do. But it does mean that until we can fix the mess we are in, everyone who cares about what happens both to our troops and to the Iraqi people should force themselves to face up to the hard issues on the ground rather than indulging in the easy game of gotcha.
Now, readers know that I comment regularly on this debate over "who's right or wrong" on Iraq. My post, "The Lessons of Iraq," lays out my position concisely, and see as well the debate over the war at Slate, "How Did I Get It Wrong?"

I think Slaughter's naive to think the debate on Iraq's justification or success will conclude any time soon. The deepest ideological divisions in society today revolve around the appropriate role of U.S. of force in the world, and the controversy's getting a big boost on the 5th anniversary of Iraq.

While Slaughter's obviously a scholar who's steeped in the literature on the international norms of war, peace, and cooperation, most in the antiwar movement enter the debate from a considerably less learned perspective. Theirs is more of the postmodern ideological agenda which seeks peace at any price, vilifying power and warfare as fascist and Hitlerian. There exist tremendous contradictions in this approach, and some on the left are indeed intense advocates of projecting forward military power for humanitarian operations (Samantha Power, for example).

But the politics of the Iraq war seem light years away from the controversies over the use of force in the Balkans in the 1990s. While realists criticized the Clinton administration for supporting intervention in the alleged absence of vital national interests, the current debate over Iraq has been much more divisive, mobilizing an antiwar movement that has struggled to rekindle the power of the 1960s-era of political radicalism.

Yglesias, for all of his credentials as a top lefty blogger, appears not far removed in his criticism of the war from the folks at Code Pink or INTERNATIONAL Answer.

That's my problem with Slaughter. While public intellectuals have throughout history provided powerful moral and ideological criticisms of politics and public purpose, contemporary left-wing debates on the Bush administration are mired in nihilism and anti-Americanism.

By engaging the antiwar blogosphere the way she does, Slaughter elevates the spokesmen for the uncleansed, unhinged fringe to the realm of reasoned foreign policy debate.

So far, I'm not impressed by the quality of analysis of top left-wing antiwar bloggers like
Yglesias, as well as Glenn Greenwald and Josh Marshall.

These people are pundits, not poltical scientists.
If policymakers want to listen to them and act on their recommedations, that's perfectly fine, but scholarship has a peer evaulation process that promotes the best, most rigorously practiced research and ideas to the top of the intellectual marketplace. Yglesias and his sort are not in that realm.

Not all theory has policy relevance, of course, but much does. By elevating the often intemperate but wholly ideological conspiracies and ideological attacks of the left blogosphere to the level of dispassionate professional policy advocacy, Slaughter demeans the very profession to which she is a committed pathbreaker.

For more along these lines, see my takedown of Josh Marshall's foreign policy, "
Uninformed Comment: Josh Marshall on American Military Power."

See more at